Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy Voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking Voice.
A.W. Tozer, from The Pursuit of God
As we read The Scarlet Letter, we observe the role of religion in the lives of the people. It seems no matter what anyone believes, they think everyone else should believe it too. On this day, June 4th in 1768, five Baptist ministers were arrested in New England and charged with disturbing the peace. “They cannot meet a man upon the road,” it was charged, “but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat.” Most of us can relate. Sometimes the zeal for evangelism leads well-meaning people past the point of absurdity. In the church, it seems to be getting worse.
We live in an age of dazzle. From the special effects we expect in our entertainment to the extreme sports we crave, everything today demands bigger and louder. Our worship has suffered as a result. The quiet, reverent hours we previously spent in Sunday morning church have been replaced with light shows, Las Vegas-style stage productions and increasingly flashy sermons that can easily be confused with motivational infomercials.
The Bible relates a story about the prophet Elijah and an encounter with God. Elijah experienced mighty winds, earthquakes, and fire but scripture says “the Lord was not in them.” When God spoke, it was “a still, small voice.” Once Elijah could shut out the distractions, he was ready to listen.
1 Kings 19:11-13
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
L E A R N M O R E
Art: Elijah in the Desert by Washington Allston, 1818
Allston is considered America’s first Romantic painter. He took the subject for Elijah in the Desert from the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 17:1–7, God ordered the prophet into the desert where he was miraculously kept alive by ravens, which brought him bread and meat. Allston conveyed Elijah’s experience and appealed to the viewer’s emotional rather than intellectual response through the bleakness of the vast, inhospitable landscape, painted in a sober palette of browns, steely blues, and grays. The mood of desolation and abandonment is underscored by the tiny size of the figure. The sources for Allston’s work here reflect his study of the old masters during his time abroad and include the Venetian Renaissance artist Titian, for his subtle manipulation of expressive color, and the Baroque painter Salvator Rosa, for the drama of the composition.
A.W. Tozer and The Pursuit of God
Conservative evangelical mystic. Tozer was a self-educated American who began his working life in an Akron, Ohio, rubber factory. Converted in 1915, he joined the Alliance, a Holiness denomination that became his lifelong church home. His first pastorate was in 1919; others followed, leading him eventually to Chicago’s South Side (1928–1959) and Toronto, Canada (1959–1963). Temperamentally reclusive and poetic, Tozer was drawn to the writings of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Christian mystics and seventeenth-century Quietists. He absorbed their visions and then, with a uniquely engaging style—half Jeremiah, half Mark Twain—passed along his discovered insights to countless appreciative fundamentalists and emerging evangelicals. He spoke reprovingly to a religious community that had become, in his judgment, largely disconnected from the authentic presence of God.
Two of Tozer’s works, The Pursuit of God (1948) and The Knowledge of the Holy (1961), remain classics.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
L. Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer (2008);
D. Fant Jr., A. W. Tozer (1964).
Glen G. Scorgie, “Tozer, A(iden) W(ilson) (1897–1963),” ed. Glen G. Scorgie et al., Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 805.